Digital Manners: Your Online Dating Photo Is Deceptive

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
Dec. 13 2011 2:52 PM

I Thought You Had a Better Body (Transcript)

Farhad Manjoo and Emily Yoffe debate the question: Should you tell your Internet date that his/her profile photo is deceptive?

Farhad Manjoo:  Hi, are you Amy? Oh, you don’t really look like your photo on Match.com, so if you don’t mind, I think I’m going to go.

Emily Yoffe:  I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist.

Farhad:  I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.

Emily:  Today’s question is from a listener who says he feels deceived by outdated pictures on online dating sites. He writes, “Dear Farhad and Emily, I’ve been online dating for just a short time and have run into this sticky situation twice now. The other person has misrepresented their body in the photos. In one case, she just provided headshots and used group photos to hide her body. In another, it was a cut-and-dried case of lying. She included pictures of her entire body, but must have used pictures that were very old. I know how shallow this sounds, but of course a person’s physical appearance factors into my perceived compatibility with someone. I always complete the date thinking I’m being a gentleman, but then I never call or respond to them again. What’s ruder, to point out this situation and advise them to be honest or to simply never contact them again? The only option I can think of is to preemptively confirm the accuracy of their photos by asking. But I think that would ensure I’ll never get another date.” Signed, Duped and Disappointed.

Okay, Farhad, you have been more recently single than I have. Did you use online dating? Did you run into this?

Farhad:  No, I did not run into this problem, but I’ve heard that this is a common problem and I can see why it would pop up on online dating sites. His only solution he can think of is to just ask them to confirm their photo, which seems like a really bad idea. So I think he shouldn’t do that.

And he also seems to be going about it the wrong way. He’s talking about noticing this problem on the date. The guideline is for online dating that your first date should be a very low commitment affair, like a coffee or something – nothing that has to last longer than a half an hour or an hour or so.

So if he goes to meet that person and she doesn’t look at all like what he expected, he can stick it out for an hour and then never talk to her again.

Emily:  Well, I’m kind of sympathetic with the idea of misrepresenting your body, because who wouldn’t want to misrepresent their body? I wish I could do it right now.

On the other hand, it does not make sense to stick your head on Gisele Bündchen’s body and put this on Match site, because you’re going to have to show up. It’s just crazy to do that. I do kind of like the person who’s hiding behind other people. “Where’s Waldo?” That’s my head.

This guy should get a clue. If it’s just her head and she’s in the back row behind a bunch of elephants, you’re not going to be happy when she shows up.

Farhad:  I think that’s the advice, actually, for women to put a picture of your whole body on there because if you put a picture just of your face, then men are going to know that there’s something fishy going on, that you’re trying to misrepresent yourself.

Emily:  Okay. So only headshots.

Farhad:  Don’t go out with only headshots.

Emily:  Don’t follow up. Now, as Dear Prudence, I had a letter about this very dilemma that was a guy like this who was looking for someone slender, and she had a very pretty face. She shows up; she’s a great deal bigger than he expected. He was a gentleman; he completed the date. He really liked her, and he asked her out again.

So he wrote to me he had seen her several times. He thought she was great. He really connected with her, but he said, “She’s just bigger than anyone I’ve ever gone out with, anyone I imagine going out with. I don’t know what to do.”

Farhad:  Well, then even if he loved her for her personality and thought she had a pretty face, didn’t he mind that she apparently deliberately misrepresented herself on the site?

Emily:  If you look at statistics on Americans, most people are overweight.

Farhad:  There’s a good chance you’re both misrepresenting yourself.

Emily:  Right. So you jointly misrepresent your body and then you can relax.

Farhad:  But I wonder how often it happens like the scenario you just described where the guy actually likes the woman who misrepresented herself. I think more often it’s like our letter writer here where you’re completely turned off and you’re justifiably upset that this person misrepresented herself (or himself).

One thing that I thought of that you could do now in the age of Facebook is before you meet the person you could send them a Facebook friend request. It’s kind of a subtle way to be able to see all their Facebook photos, and if they don’t accept your friend request then maybe you can see that as a sign of something fishy.

Emily:  Yeah. I think his question, “Should I try to preemptively confirm the accuracy of their photos?” you don’t say before you meet at Starbucks, “Should I look for a whale?” You’re exactly right. Make the first date something that it’s an hour out of your life. You’ve liked the person enough in the exchanges you’ve had previously that you should have enough to talk about anyway.

Farhad:  I have to think that you’re always going to be disappointed with the person that you see. Two things. First, people are always going to put up their best photo on the online dating site, and no one looks like their best photo every day.

The other thing is if you’re looking at just a photo and this profile, you’ve already idealized the person and the person who you see in the first 10-20 minutes is not going to match up to that ideal you had in your mind for the previous two weeks. But then, over time, you’ll get to like the real person rather than a profile.

Emily:  Maybe that’s a new strategy. You put up your worst photo, then you show up and the person is like, “Oh, my God. This is great!”

Farhad:  So Emily, do you think that he should explain to the other person that she was being dishonest with her photo? Should he approach that subject?

Emily:  So you’re sitting there on this first thing and he says, “You know, you should’ve warned me that you don’t like to take the feedbag off, honey.” No. She knows she’s been somewhat deceitful. She’s being a jerk if she thinks he’s not going to notice. But what’s going to be the extremely awkward wrap-up to the lattes by saying, “You know what? You’re just a lot heavier than you looked. Get the hell out of here.”

Farhad:  I can think of one positive outcome out of telling her that she misrepresented herself. Maybe you can say, “You’re a great person and I like you, but I don’t think we click physically. But I think you can do a lot better if you used a different photo or a more accurate photo.” I think you’d have better luck in online dating if you didn’t lie.

Emily:  I love your idea about friending on Facebook to get a gander at the photos. I don’t think you have to explain. It’s just mutually understood you’re checking each other out, and if you want to check out, no harm, no foul.

Farhad: Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is digitalmanners@slate.com

Emily:  You can also join our Facebook page where we carry on the conversation throughout the week.  Go to www.Facebook.com/digitalmanners.

Farhad:  And we’ll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.